Last Friday I arrived in the Dominican Republic to deliver a set of seminars on the 7 Mindsets. Imagine my surprise when, walking through the airport, I saw news reporters and camera crews rushing towards me. Just as I was thinking, “Now this is the way to be welcomed to a country,” the reporters ran past me shouting, “Tony Peña! Congratulations and welcome home!” I turned, and walking behind me was the general manager for the Dominican baseball team that had just won the World Baseball Classic. I couldn’t help but laugh, and my experience inspired this week’s story…
While growing up, David’s parents often trusted him to look after his three younger siblings, which helped him develop maturity and a sense of leadership at a young age. He was a calming influence in the household, easygoing and taking jokes well. He also had a great sense of humor, and made friends everywhere he went.
David was tall, strong, and filled out early, embracing the role of a slugger from a young age and sticking with it into high school. His relaxed nature served him well, and his love for being at the ballpark was obvious every day, whether he was hitting or not. With his talent so obvious, David drew the attention of major league baseball scouts. Ten days after his 17th birthday, he was drafted. David traveled from his home in the Dominican Republic to the US. He didn’t speak much English, and called every teammate he met “Papi.”
His first taste of professional baseball saw David struggling at bat. He did well in the field, surprisingly agile for his size, and got more comfortable over the next two years. Playing for a number of minor-league teams, David’s game improved and he was promoted to the major league. But just as his skills and intensity were coming into focus, David fractured a bone in his wrist.
The next several years were up and down for David. He was demoted back to a minor league team after a poor showing at spring training, but his hitting destroyed the pitchers he encountered there, and he was brought back up at the end of the season. Determined to stay, he worked on his defense, undertook extra batting practice, and got himself into great shape. He set several career highs and bolstered his team’s growing strength. However, at the end of a very positive run for his team, another wrist injury sidelined him.
A few months later, just when he was finally getting the snap of his swing back, tragedy struck David’s family when his mother was killed in a car accident on New Year’s Day. His response was to throw himself into baseball as he never had, but although his team’s record was better with him than without him, they weren’t confident about his consistency. After his knee began to bother him, he went half a season without a home run and was traded.
Despite being the new kid on the block, David’s presence was immediately felt in the locker room. His new team, a self-styled “Band of Misfits,” was a collection of fiery and erratic personalities, but David managed to fit right in and befriend them all. On the field, he rose to the challenge in those desperate, all-or-nothing moments, and thrived as his playing time increased and the team came together as a unit around him. David continued calling all of his teammates Papi until one of them turned the tables, calling him “Big Papi.” The nickname stuck.
In the fourth game of the 2004 American League Championship, the New York Yankees led three games to zero over David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s Boston Red Sox, and were on the verge of eliminating the Sox from advancing to the World Series. However, in the ninth inning, Ortiz’s game-ending home run kept his team alive, and he led them to an historic defeat of the Yankees. The Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series for the first time in eighty-six years.
David Ortiz may have grown up in an impoverished community, but his will to overcome challenges and keep “swinging away” in life has led to one of the most remarkable careers in baseball. At age 37, he is an eight-time All-Star who holds the Red Sox single season home run record. Not bad considering that Babe Ruth once played for the very same team. It’s no wonder that the team gave him a plaque proclaiming Ortiz, "the greatest clutch-hitter in the history of the Boston Red Sox.”
There’s an old saying in baseball that you can’t steal second while keeping your foot on first. Set your dreams high and swing for the fences!
Until next week...